Philharmonia Orchestra/Dutoit Boris Berezovsky

Finlandia, Op.26
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.16
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64

Boris Berezovsky (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Charles Dutoit

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 11 February, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Alas, due to problems with public transport, I missed the opening work of this afternoon concert, Sibelius’s Finlandia. So we have to plunge, if not quite in medias res, to the appearance of the hero.

Boris Berezovsky (replacing Mikhail Pletnev) shambled onto the platform. The beginning of Grieg’s Piano Concerto’s immediately showed we were in the presence of a master. Those opening octaves tumbled impetuously down the hillside, with gruff, insistent beat. Yet, at just the one point, Berezovsky interposed a glancing inflexion that whispered of a hesitant human presence in-amongst the pounding of the powerful juggernaut that Grieg had set into motion. The ‘aberration’ was judged with masterly care, thrown in with skill and nonchalance.

This performance was continuously alive to the proliferation of nuance in the music. The programme note cited Grieg’s admiration for Schumann’s Piano Concerto – Berezovsky showed us why. When appropriate he can barnstorm with the best of them. Yet, with a flick of his fingers, he conveys an abiding sense of human frailty, tenderness, uncertainty and sorrow.

The first movement is a profusion of melodies, whose richness and variety can easily be lost in great billows of sound. Not here. Each melody flowed in easily from the last one, moving from brusque folklore to the more suave refinements of the salon. In this, Berezovsky was exquisitely and emphatically joined by the Philharmonia Orchestra in seamless partnership.

The remaining two movements are more straightforwardly effective. The brief, lyrical Adagio tinged with wistful sadness leads into an Allegro moderato e marcato in which Norwegian dances – the halling and the springdans – offer visiting trolls the opportunity to stamp wildly and earthily or stampede hectically.

Strangely, the Tchaikovsky opened hesitantly, despite playing that was sufficiently steady and lugubrious.

The performance that followed showed nothing of the sort. It glowed with extrovert confidence. Even its misery glittered. Dutoit let us revel in the mastery and colour of Tchaikovsky’s orchestral writing. This was a rousing and very public performance. There was a hurtling vigour to much of it – of authentic, thrusting, libidinous power. This was a far cry from the plaintive hysteria which many conductors find in the music – or in its reputation. All credit to Dutoit for giving this work such a joyful, extroverted outing. It suggested that Tchaikovsky was entirely capable of enjoying himself with the abandon of someone engrossed in the physicality and speed needed for a Cossack Dance.

That much more of a shock, then, was the return of the minor key in the last movement – powerful and forbidding, if temporary. The major key’s final homecoming was genuinely triumphant. This return is often viewed as ‘fake’ jubilation on Tchaikovsky’s part. On this occasion, the elation was truly and wholeheartedly resounding – a credit to the Philharmonia’s expertise and to Dutoit’s robust concept.

This, however, was an interpretation missing gentleness. The wistful horn theme in the Andante brought no catch to my throat. The waltz had zest and swagger, but I heard no lilt or bounce. Ultimately, this performance was magnificent, memorable and vigorous – but also one fearing to make for itself a quiet moment where it might have found its heart.

  • This programme was previously played in the QEH on 8 February
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